PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Q&A Segment of the Joint Press Conference with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (May 2023)

Remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Q&A segment during the joint press conference with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on 16 May 2023 at Tuynhuys, Cape Town. PM Lee was on a working visit to South Africa.


CNA: Singapore and South Africa are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic ties this year. Apart from the areas of digital technology and skills development that we saw MOUs signed, are there any specific or new areas of cooperation or partnership that both sides are looking at?

PM Lee Hsien Loong: Our officials have been talking about many things. For example, we talked about trade, promoting new areas of trade, including agricultural business; we talked about cooperation in renewable energy. And we would like to compare notes with one another also on the areas of how we manage our GLCs or SOEs, because these are important parts of the economy — they provide important elements of the infrastructure very often, and they have to run efficiently, sustainably and commercially viably, and that is always a challenge, and is something which we would like to learn from one another.

That is just a few of the areas which we are working on. There is also research and development where South Africa has got very advanced capabilities, for example medical research, pandemic preparedness, and Singapore is also focused on this area and would like to keep in touch with South Africa closely.

Certainly during COVID-19, we watched South Africa’s experience closely, we kept in touch with experts in South Africa. We read carefully the scientific papers which were published in South Africa, and when there were discoveries, for example when the Omicron virus was discovered in South Africa and published, we learnt a lot from what the South African scientists and medical authorities published and took a lot of comfort and reassurance that this was a team which knew what they were doing, and whose words and explanations and reassurances or alarms can be taken very seriously, and we hope to do more there.

The Straits Times: PM, you mentioned you want greater trade and investment links between Singapore and South Africa. And of course, you brought a business delegation here. I would like to know what is your pitch to Singapore firms to come to South Africa, as well as your pitch to South African firms to go to Singapore and the region. Thank you.

PM Lee: Well, the second half is a message which we have been delivering to people from companies from many parts of the world, which is that Asia is developing, it is vibrant. It is a troubled world, but within Asia, economies are still growing, will continue to grow, and are developing ties with one another. Certainly that is the case in Southeast Asia, amongst the ASEAN countries. And in this kind of a greater environment, Singapore aspires not just to be a prosperous spot, but a node which is connected to the region and a base where people can use us as a hub, people can use us for headquarters, people can use us as a jumping off point and come to Singapore, take the Singapore market — it is not so huge, but from Singapore, you can access the region. And that is my pitch to the companies in Africa because the opportunities are there, and I think Africa is growing. You would like to go beyond the continent, and East Asia is where a lot of the world's growth is.

The pitch to Singapore companies is we are looking for new markets to open. We have traditional markets near ourselves, in our neighbourhoods, in China, in India, the developed countries. Those will continue to grow and will continue to be important. But in a difficult environment, we also have to find new markets; and in Africa, there are spots of great promise and great vibrancy. There is a lot of energy and talent. There are many opportunities, but you have to identify where they are and go for them. And South Africa is a very important economy in Africa. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest; it is one of the most advanced in terms of its IT, its financial services, its telecoms infrastructure. It is not a developed economy yet, but it is working to head in that direction. And there are opportunities here — companies which are here have found niches, and they are able to grow and prosper. And we would like more Singapore companies to come and explore and get to know the terrain. Even if you do not move straightaway, be aware of what is possible here so that we do not allow good opportunities to pass us by because we have not been paying attention.